The conditions, due to coastal elevation and sea-level

The Effect of Rising Sea Levels on South Asia and Southeast Asia The Earth’s climate has constantly been changing over time, ascribing to the small variations in the rotation of the Earth, which affects the amount of solar energy received. However, the natural fluctuations of the Earth’s current temperatures have been disrupted due to the human use of fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gasses in the air. This results in global warming, or the overall rise in surface temperature on Earth. This heat trapped in the atmosphere induces instability of the Earth’s climate, including the rise of sea levels, droughts, and air pollution. Two areas of the world that have witnessed the dire consequences of climate change are South Asia and Southeast Asia. The increase in sea levels in the majority of Asia has caused the displacement of millions of people, great losses of arable land, and drastic economic losses. South Asia is comprised of the countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Maldives.

The area has a wide range of topography and climates with its four physiographic regions, including coastal plains and tropical beaches, southern plateaus, the great plains, and the northern mountains. The region is heavily dependent on monsoons, as it supplies a massive amount of water that is needed to grow water-intensive crops, such as rice, a large component of the South Asian diet. Monsoons also provide rainfall that sustain tropical rainforests and are also good sources of snow and ice in Himalayas that feed into the Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra river systems. On the other hand, monsoons have imposed harsh lifestyle conditions on South Asians. Monsoons have had countless negative impacts, such as widespread flooding, property damage, destruction to agricultural lands, damage to transportation infrastructure, homelessness, disease, malnutrition, serious injury, and even death. Moreover, the population density is the highest in South Asia and yet, population is still increasing by 2% annually. In fact, the most densely populated country is Bangladesh, with 3,128 people per square mile. The most dense areas are around river valleys and near coastal lowlands.

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For example, many people in Bangladesh live in lowlands with water-sodden conditions, due to coastal elevation and sea-level rise from climate change. Although other countries in South Asia are affected, Bangladesh serves as the prime example of the detrimental effect of rising sea levels. The complex Bengal delta system created by the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna Rivers make up about eighty percent of the country. Sitting at the foot of the Himalayas, Bangladesh is also one of the flattest, lowest lying countries in the world. Nearly a quarter of the land in the area is less than seven feet above sea level. Bangladeshis are heavily accustomed to water from rivers, monsoons, massive floods, and cyclones.

Cyclones are common in Southern Bangladesh, and recently, they have become stronger, bigger, and more frequent, leaving thousands to die and a million homeless. By the end of the century, climate scientists project that there will be a three-foot rise in sea level that will result in seventeen percent of the land mass flooded by salt water. This will force approximately twenty million Bangladeshis off their land by the end of the century. Another study done by the IPCC also estimates that by 2050, sea level rise in Bangladesh could directly displace more than 3 million of the 111 million people living there. People in Bangladesh have already begun migration to more inland areas to escape the sea level rise of the South.

People in Bangladesh have always been drawn to the capital city of Dhaka, since it is their only source of jobs to improve their economic standing. Dhaka is urbanized with an abundance of factories, as Bangladesh is the third largest garment exporter in the world. However, Dhaka stands as the one of the world’s highest densely populated cities, and migration to Dhaka due to the rising sea level is drastically increasing the already overpopulated city. Some demographers predict that Dhaka will nearly double in population in about two decades.

Up to 2,000 people arrive to Dhaka daily, overcrowding the city and creating poor and unclean living conditions. Many people are crammed into small houses and living standards are poor. However, working conditions are strikingly worse. The majority of new migrants have no choice other than to work in unsafe factories, earning less than two dollars a day. An example of these harsh working conditions was Rana Plaza, a garment factory that made clothing for top western brands.

The owner of the factory illegally added floors and crammed workers to increase production, which caused the collapse of the building and resulted over a thousand deaths, leaving another thousand injured. There is severe damage to infrastructure, agriculture, and human health from the rising of sea levels. Cyclones have swallowed homes of many Bangladeshis, leaving approximately a million of them homeless. Countless migrants try to flee to its western border country, India, to escape the threats of climate change, but India had made great lengths to ensure Bangladeshis do not cross over to their side. Migrants that are caught crossing the border are easily shot down by the Border Security Force of India. Moreover, as rising sea levels increase the intensity and frequency of cyclones in Southern Bangladesh, salt water is pushed towards the north, destroying arable land. In fact, the cyclone Aila in 2009 pushed so much salt further inland, that five years later, much of the salt still remains and the rising sea level is only exacerbating this issue. Bangladesh heavily relies on agriculture for their diet, and thus, the loss of arable land will only worsen the already widespread poverty throughout the country.

The unpredictable cyclones from climate change have also resulted in an increase in skin infections, diarrheal diseases, respiratory tract infections, and as well as other severe health issues from the salinity of the water. Bangladeshis have adapted by placing hospitals on boats for people in the South that encounter these health risks. Southeast Asia stretches from eastern India to China, consisting of eleven countries. The region is divided into its mainland and inland zones. The mainland region includes Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar and the inland area is made up of Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore.

Southeast Asia is located between the tropics, causing temperatures to be generally warm, whereas cooler temperatures reside in highland areas. Similar to South Asia, Southeast Asia is also affected by monsoon winds. Furthermore, a key feature of the mainland are long rivers stemming from the highlands that divide Southeast Asia from China and northwest India. Fertile lowland plains encompass the mainland as well, which are well developed for growing rice, key to the Thai, Vietnamese, and Burmese diets. Another aspect of mainland Southeast Asia is its long coastline. The inland region, however, is made up of countless islands, where temperatures are high year-round. Unlike the mainland, rainfall is higher and more evenly distributed throughout the year, due to frequent typhoons.

Relatively dense populations are found in the Southeast Asia’s river deltas, coastal areas, and zones of fertile volcanic soil. The rising of sea levels have a similar effect on Vietnam in Southeast Asia as it does on Bangladesh in South Asia. Vietnam is located on the Indochinese Peninsula and possesses a 3,260 km coastline that stretches from Mong Kai in the north to Ha Tien in the South. The country also embodies two fertile deltas from the Red River and Mekong River discharging into the sea. Vietnam is mostly constituted of mountains and rivers. Furthermore, Vietnam is influenced by monsoons, typhoons, and the sea level rise. The Red River and Mekong River Delta suffer much of the negative impacts of the sea-level rise, as it floods lowlands, erodes shorelines, intensifies coastal flooding, and increases salinity in water. The rising sea level can lead to the loss of wetlands and lowlands, causing displacement of the population in the areas.

Coastal marshes and swamps are targets of the sea level rise, similar to the Southern coasts of Bangladesh. As the sea level rises, flooding causes coastal wetlands to erode and new wetlands to form further inland. These newly created wetlands are smaller than the ones that were previously submerged. Wetlands that are threatened by sea level rise are around 1700 km, making up 60% of Vietnam’s coastal wetlands. Studies show that Vietnam may lose up to 40,000 km of land, including 5,000 km of rice paddy in the Red river delta and 15,000-20,000 km of rice paddy in the Mekong river delta. As a result, populations would be forced to relocate and arable land would be destroyed. Approximately 7 of the 18 million people in Mekong river delta would have to relocate. The migration of populations to neighboring locations would increase the need of resources in those areas, similar to the Bangladeshis overcrowding Dhaka.

Vietnam has witnessed an increase in flooding and erosion of its coastline over the years  due to the rise of the sea level. An area more than 1.7 x 106 ha in the Mekong river delta is flooded annually, which affect about 9 million people directly. The increasing sea level will only worsen this issue as it moves further inland. An increase in the number of tropical typhoons inflicting Vietnam has risen since the 1950s as well, similar to the recent increases in Bangladesh.

One of the distinguishing features of Vietnam is its long, curved shoreline. However, according to a Vietnamese Geography Institute study, accelerated erosion is occurring at the coastline as well as river mouths. One-fourth of both the Mekong River Delta and Red River Delta has already eroded. A combination of permanent inundation, erosion, and constant flooding have contributed to the increase in salinity in the surface and groundwater near coastal areas. The salinity in groundwater can make some areas uninhabitable before they are even flooded.

The water rich in salt would contaminate drinking water and irrigation systems for agriculture. In the Mekong River Delta, more than 1.7 x 106 ha of land has been affected by the salinity of the water and will continue to rise to 2.

2 x 106 ha if a solution is not implemented. The salt in water would not only have adverse effects on agriculture, but also on the economy as a whole. Similar to Bangladesh, the intrusion of salt in irrigation systems would destroy the production of rice, which is a key export for Vietnam.

About 50% percent of rice production comes from the Mekong river delta and 20% from the Red river delta, two areas where there the major threat of the rising sea level lies. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, by 2050, more than 25% of the arable land used for rice production will be affected by a 1 meter rise of sea level. The economic sector is also affected by the loss of infrastructure and coastal industries as well. The world’s wealthiest nations that have contributed a large portion of the greenhouse gas emissions bear responsibility for the climate change impacts in poorer nations. This portrays the interconnected relationship between different areas of the world, as how one person’s greenhouse gas can cause another person’s displacement.

Through the study of climate change, it can also be concluded that climate change affects countries in similar ways, as both Bangladesh and Vietnam experienced increased amount of flooding, cyclones, forced migration, and salinity in water. Despite differences in region, climate change is the same for all and will eventually affect all areas of the world if measures are not taken to put a halt to this predicament. As seen in cases of Bangladesh and Vietnam, climate change is not a theoretical phenomenon in countries that are facing the detrimental effects of the rising sea level, as it is reality they have to suffer through.


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